I thought it would be helpful to let you peek into our foundation office and watch part of the grantmaking process. This is what happens when we receive the grant request your organization spent so much time putting together.
We still use the paper application model, a bit old-fashioned but we respect creativity and do not want to limit nonprofit staff to a strict computer software frame. That said, we risk the long, overly wordy requests. Our program officer brings the mail up and slices open your envelope, makes sure all the requested pieces are included, and she complains a bit if you spent extra money on overnight delivery. She makes one or two comments on a sticky note about your “ask”, and then she puts it on my desk. Now the detective work begins.
I start with an internet search
Is there any bad press, any good press, is there a website? I scroll to the bottom of your website and check out the year the page was last updated by the webmaster. Does the website list programs, staff credentials if applicable, board members, and a bit of history? Does your website make bold statements such as “we are the first . . . " or “we are the only . . .”? If it does, I have to do a broader search to determine if any of those statements are true. It has happened that I already knew that a potential grantee was not the only one doing a certain program because I fund the other one! It all looks okay, so I continue on with the examination to decide where it goes from here.
The next place is GuideStar
I search GuideStar for your name, even though I have your EIN number on the financials you submitted. I want to know if your name is used consistently and comes up easily in discovery. Groups that have a legal name on their 501(c)3 but use another name without explanation are doing a disservice to themselves, it leaves a question in a funder’s mind. I may find the historical 990s that I need on GuideStar but then I find something I do not want to see on your page; blank pages. Blank spaces where there should be an up-to-date mission statement, board list, explanations of programs (especially ones that you didn’t mention in your grant request). There is nothing that tells me what you do. Uh, oh.
The Big Void
The thing about the big void created by blank pages is that the mind of the reader fills voids on its own. A blank spot actually provides messages, unintended and not necessarily accurate. If you don’t fill in the blanks, I will wonder; don’t you pay attention to detail, aren’t you thorough, are you inconsistent? Notice how often the void of the blank page is filled with negatives! I have a great deal of respect for the limited time that nonprofit staff have, how over-committed you are to all the tasks involved in running, and raising funds for, your organization. It is a big mystery to me, why wouldn’t you take advantage of the opportunity to tell donors about your amazing programs, with a minimum of precious staff time, for free?
Share your Story with Millions
Before all those negatives pop up, answer the questions before they are asked. Don’t just tell me how great that one program is, tell EVERYONE how great ALL your programs are. So please, ensure that prospective funders find the accurate, timely information about your organization they need to make informed giving decisions. Claim and update your GuideStar Nonprofit Profile today.
The proceding is a guest post by Dr. Marian Conway, executive director for the NY Community Bank Foundation. She has been with the foundation since 2002. Dr. Conway has a Masters in Arts and Liberal Studies – Writing, and a Bachelors in Interdisciplinary Studies, from SUNY’s Empire State College.